Wealth and Want
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Foreign Aid

Henry George:  The Land Question (1881)
When there is famine among savages it is because food enough is not to be had. But this was not the case in Ireland. In any part of Ireland, during the height of what was called the famine, there was food enough for whoever had means to pay for it. The trouble was not in the scarcity of food. There was, as a matter of fact, no real scarcity of food, and the proof of it is that food did not command scarcity prices. During all the so-called famine, food was constantly exported from Ireland to England, which would not have been the case had there been true famine in one country any more than in the other. During all the so-called famine a practically unlimited supply of American meat and grain could have been poured into Ireland, through the existing mechanism of exchange, so quickly that the relief would have been felt instantaneously. Our sending of supplies in a national war-ship was a piece of vulgar ostentation, fitly paralleled by their ostentatious distribution in British gunboats under the nominal superintendence of a royal prince. Had we been bent on relief, not display, we might have saved our government the expense of fitting up its antiquated warship, the British gunboats their coal, the Lord Mayor his dinner, and the Royal Prince his valuable time. A cable draft, turned in Dublin into postal orders, would have afforded the relief, not merely much more easily and cheaply, but in less time than it took our war-ship to get ready to receive her cargo; for the reason that so many of the Irish people were starving was, not that the food was not to be had, but that they had not the means to buy it. Had the Irish people had money or its equivalent, the bad seasons might have come and gone without stinting any one of a full meal. Their effect would merely have been to determine toward Ireland the flow of more abundant harvests.  ... read the whole article

Henry George: The Crime of Poverty  (1885 speech)
In the Old Testament we are told that when the Israelites journeyed through the desert, they were hungered, and that God sent manna down out of the heavens. There was enough for all of them, and they all took it and were relieved. But supposing that desert had been held as private property, as the soil of Great Britain is held, as the soil even of our new States is being held; suppose that one of the Israelites had a square mile, and another one had twenty square miles, and another one had a hundred square miles, and the great majority of the Israelites did not have enough to set the soles of their feet upon, which they could call their own — what would become of the manna? What good would it have done to the majority? Not a whit. Though God had sent down manna enough for all, that manna would have been the property of the landholders; they would have employed some of the others perhaps, to gather it up into heaps for them, and would have sold it to their hungry brethren. Consider it; this purchase and sale of manna might have gone on until the majority of Israelites had given all they had, even to the clothes off their backs. What then? Then they would not have had anything left to buy manna with, and the consequences would have been that while they went hungry the manna would have lain in great heaps, and the landowners would have been complaining of the over-production of manna. There would have been a great harvest of manna and hungry people, just precisely the phenomenon that we see today. ... read the whole speech

Henry George: Ode to Liberty  (1877 speech)
In the very centers of our civilization today are want and suffering enough to make sick at heart whoever does not close his eyes and steel his nerves. Dare we turn to the Creator and ask Him to relieve it? Supposing the prayer were heard, and at the behest with which the universe sprang into being there should glow in the sun a greater power; new virtue fill the air; fresh vigor the soil; that for every blade of grass that now grows two should spring up, and the seed that now increases fifty-fold should increase a hundredfold! Would poverty be abated or want relieved? Manifestly no! Whatever benefit would accrue would be but temporary. The new powers streaming through the material universe could be utilized only through land. And land, being private property, the classes that now monopolize the bounty of the Creator would monopolize all the new bounty. Land owners would alone be benefited. Rents would increase, but wages would still tend to the starvation point! ... read the whole speech
Nic Tideman: Basic Tenets of the Incentive Taxation Philosophy
Applications Abroad as Well as at Home
As important as our ideas are for the justice and efficiency of the American economy, their application is even more important in less developed countries, where often 80% of the land is held by 3% of the population. To give all the citizens of these countries chances to make something of their lives, it is extremely important to equalize access to land, not by redividing the land (which inevitably winds up putting land into the hands of people who cannot use it well) but by requiring any one who uses land to pay according to the unimproved value of the land that he or she uses. To bring this message to the world, we must first apply it to ourselves. ...  Read the whole article

Karl Williams:  Social Justice In Australia: INTERMEDIATE KIT
"Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary." - Martin Luther King, (1929 - 1968), civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate

When you're confronted by those images of mournful young eyes which gaze pleadingly at you from an emaciated body, it's pretty hard to resist reaching for your wallet. Well, I hope that's made you sleep a lot more contently at night, but I'm afraid the grinding poverty of much of the Third World will grind on just the same.

'Twas ever thus, within an economic system that, deliberately or not, supports the mother of all monopolies - land monopoly. Landlords get rich in their sleep because of what happens around, not on their land. The vice-like grip of land privileges crosses all national and cultural boundaries, and this writer has spent years tramping around places like Iran, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Yemen and Uganda, and had this bitter fact confirmed everywhere.

Here is the type of thing I saw again and again. Landless peasants are living on the breadline, working for their relatively wealthy landlords. Some philanthropic organisation funds the building of a well, so that the women don't have to spend so many hours each day tramping to fetch it. Guess what happens to their rents when the well is completed? With amazing certainty, rents rise in proportion to the benefits of access to that well. It's the same deal with the provision of roads, schools, clinics, irrigation schemes, bridges etc. Net result: the living standards of the landless change little, but that of the landlords are considerably enriched. Someone wasn't kidding when he said, "Third World aid is the giving by the poor people of rich countries to the rich people of poor countries."

Of course, this is not to deny outright the goodwill and even the occasional good result of aid programs. Indisputably, emergency aid that puts food into starving hands will always be a blessing. Also, where there is a high percentage of land ownership, benefits obviously accrue to more people. But to which people? Some will undoubtedly benefit more than others, and some won't benefit at all. Furthermore, when you factor in the political corruption of many Third World governments, the benefits are more unevenly distributed.

Again, land monopoly and all its privileges would be destroyed by LVT. Whereas landlords had been able to sit back and leave much of their land to be idle or inefficiently used, LVT would force them either to put it to its optimum use or to effectively stand aside to allow others to do so. The boot would then be on the other foot, as vast amounts of land will be thrown onto the market and labourers would be offered a fair wage.

Nor would any landowner - small or large - benefit, in net terms, more than another when a domestic or foreign government finances local development . Land rendered more productive or desirable would pay proportionally more LVT. And, of course, that LVT would not end up in any private pocket but would be the natural source of that society's revenue, benefiting one and all. We'll take this up a theoretical notch in the very next module "Land Reform - Real and Illusory".
 "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil, to one who is striking at the root." - Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862), American essayist and poet

"The teaching of Henry George will be the basis of our program of reform…The (land tax) as the only means of supporting the government is an infinitely just, reasonable and equitably distributed tax, and on it we will found our new system. The centuries of heavy and irregular taxation for the benefit of the Manchus have shown China the injustice of any other system of taxation." - Dr. Sun Yat Sen (1866 - 1925), democrat, reformer and acknowledged "father of the Chinese republic"

In the last module we've just seen how LVT would place the benefits of aid and development fairly and squarely in the hands of the people, not just the landowners. "But, hang on!" comes the objection, "There are other types of land reform besides LVT." This, as the module title suggests, is our subject - how other types of land reform have never delivered and never will.

Certainly there have been endless attempts at land reform. "Viva la revolución!" has been the cry all through Latin America, for instance, but the lot of the average peasant has changed little, even with the best will in the world behind land reform.

Here's the problem. So-called land reform has always been seen as land redistribution, based on the same form of outright land ownership. But there are three cogent reasons why land redistribution, as remarked above, does not work and never will.
  • Firstly, to redistribute land means to divide it up. But land is so vastly different as to make this task utterly impractical, what with wilderness, marginal agricultural land, good agricultural land, outer suburban land and prime real estate in the heart of the cities. Where's Solomon to wisely divide it all up, with the added problem of buildings and improvements that some people have built and others haven't? Would A have to get 100 square kilometres of desert to match B's parcel of two square metres opposite the GPO?
  • Secondly, even if the different values were measured at a given moment, they would immediately begin to change, and would continue to do so. Even if everyone might start with a parcel of land equal in value to everyone else's, those values would at once begin to shift. In the first year a dam is built here, a school is closed down there, and roads are built everywhere. Appreciation and depreciation would continue year after year, and in no time everyone's "equal" parcels would have ceased to be such. A great way to operate a casino, but what sort of way to run a society?
  • Thirdly, even if you could wave a magic wand and somehow take into account the different and ever-changing values of land, what about new entrants like the newborn of the next and future generations? And what do immigrants get?
Besides the Big Three reasons above, there are two minor ones worth mentioning.
  • After the land "reform," would selling, speculating and profiteering go on as before, or would all have to stick to their allocated plots for the rest of their lives?
  • It would require a really squeaky-clean government for the "casino" of changing land values not to turn into a den of political influence and corruption. Most likely, development would be skewed towards the land of the politically empowered. Or maybe the kleptocracy would get the tip-off to buy land where development is going to take place.
None of the problems above would exist with LVT, the implementation of which would be far less revolutionary than that of historical land reforms. We need land reform here in Australia, of course - but in the Third World where poverty is so great, matters are urgent. What good has foreign aid done over all these years, when you look at the disparities of wealth in recipient countries? Why do governments even today (as in Zimbabwe) still go down the path of land reform whereby land is doled out to a handful of government supporters?

We all know the proverb: Give a man a fish and he'll be fed for a day, but teach a man to fish and he'll feed himself for a lifetime. One would assume that Western governments, the World Bank and the IMF also knew it, but they continue to hand out fish instead. ... Read the entire article

Karl Williams:  Land Value Taxation: The Overlooked But Vital Eco-Tax
I. Historical overview
II. The problem of sprawl
III. Affordable and efficient public transport
IV. Agricultural benefits
V. Financial concerns
VI. Conclusion: A greater perspective
Appendix: "Natural Capitalism" -- A Case Study in Blindness to Land Value Taxation

It should also be noted that the advantages of LVT extend far beyond the immediate and direct contribution to environmental solutions - they give rise to economic efficiency, social justice, individual liberty, world peace, effective third world aid and more. An understanding of the nature of economic rent and rent-seeking behaviour would assist the appreciation of some points made here, but an explanation of this extends beyond the immediate ambit of this paper. This succinct summary, however, may assist:
"For the failure to make people pay rent for access, or possession of, natural resources is at the heart of all major environmental problems, and is the cause of some of the most fractious geo-political problems .... There are no remedies for the ecocrises that do not include a heightened awareness of the value of economic rent and the process of the land market"[3]

For reasons similar to those we've seen with the example of landowners benefiting from investment in infrastructure, much aid to developing countries does little to alleviate the plight and environmentally-destructive practices of the desperate landless, who can only work on the conditions demanded by the landowners because of the aforementioned monopolistic qualities of land. Improvements to infrastructure simply boost land values and the rents demanded of the landless. Furthermore, as Banks notes, "Canceling part of the debt amounts to the infusion of billions of dollars into these less developed countries which, under the existing tenure and tax regimes, would benefit the price of land rather than provide work for the landless." read the entire article

Mason Gaffney: Canada's System of Revenue Sharing
Now another similarity to the two countries us that the subventions that do go from the federal government to the provinces in Canada (and you find a similar thing in the United States) do not come from the richer provinces. They come instead from the general fund, the general taxpayer. There is in other words more vertical balancing than there is horizontal balancing (horizontal balancing you remember means equalization among the different jurisdictions). It's a little like what somebody said about foreign aid. 'Foreign aid is a device by which poor people in rich countries are taxed to subsidize rich people in poor countries.'

We'll see that equalisation in most countries works something like that; that is, in addition to this inter-provincial equalisation, there's a tax shift involved where local sources of taxation like the property tax are being displaced by the federal income tax. I suppose Ferdinand Marcos would be a splendid example of the kind of person I was talking about in the poor country and in West Virginia you have all these coal companies whose owners live in Palm Beach, whose shareholders live in Palm Beach and such places, who benefit from an inter-state equalisation that benefits West Virginia. Well these are similarities. Now differences.  ... read the whole article

Lindy Davies: Land and Justice

Wealth — products, widgets — these things are made by human beings. If customers are willing to buy more of them, then manufacturers will make more of them. But human beings can't make land. The supply of land cannot be increased. If the demand for land increases, only one thing can happen: its price will go up.

The owners of land see population and production go up, up, up — and no more land. So, they will only put their land to use if they have an immediate need for the cash. If they can afford to wait, they will wait, because they expect the land's value to increase with time.

That, in a nutshell, is the key to the land problem — the problem of poverty.

That is why millions upon millions of people who are willing and able to work cannot find work, even while millions upon millions of acres of useable land (city land, industrial land, farm land, you name it) are held idle.

This leads to no end of problems. In the United States, it brings urban blight and suburban sprawl, which disrupt communities, and waste energy and resources. You don’t think under-use of land is that big a deal? Consider the fact that in the five boroughs of New York City, 7.5% of its land, or 18.6 square miles, is vacant. That’s buildable land, not parks or streets. And, of course, a great deal more land in New York, as in every other city, is used somewhat, but far less than the local economy would support. New York City has about 80 people per acre of residential land. That means that New York’s vacant land could house another 956,000 people at current density levels, without even starting to use its vast stock of under-used land.

Even though downtowns are underbuilt, people want to move away from the high prices and high crime rates they often find there — so development leapfrogs, using far more land than is necessary, jacking up the price of farmland near the city — so that local farms can no longer compete. All this sprawl creates more and more need for roads — provided by tax dollars, of course. With all these roads, and all these cars, public transportation systems become less popular and harder to finance. This chokes the cities with even more traffic, making them even less desirable places to be. Meanwhile, all these subsidized highways are just great for the big trucks, burning subsidized fuel, carrying imported merchandise to all the big-box stores and franchise restaurants of suburbia. In other words: two of the hugest problems that progressives are trying to address today — the decay of communities and the rise of the corporate big box — are all about the land.

Around the world, it gives too much power to the banks, for land is by far the greatest source of collateral for loans, everywhere. The more money we have to pay for land, the more power we give to the banks. Although 66% of American families own their homes, the overall net equity of American home “owners” is only 18%.

It’s all about treating the land as an “asset.”

In "developing countries" it leads to a terrible vicious circle: peasants lose their land to one of two groups: either, first, to land-baron cronies of corrupt regimes — who hold land idle for the specific reason of not allowing peasants to use it, thus making sure they have no place to go, and are willing to work for subsistence wages — or, second, to multinational corporations, who run huge plantations to grow crops for export. The foreign exchange thus gained goes for debt service, which allows the ruling regime to keep playing by the IMF's rules, and stay in power. Meanwhile, the peasants gravitate to the cities, seeking nonexistent jobs, and end up in shantytowns that lack clean water and sewers.

We're told that two billion people live on less than two dollars a day. Now, certainly there is lots of poverty in the world — but that statistic troubles me. Two dollars a day? Consider your own basic needs, and ask yourself how far two bucks will go toward satisfying them. Nobody can survive on two dollars a day. Why haven't those two billion people just keeled over by now?

This sort of paradox led the Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen to the studies described in his book Development as Freedom. Sen contends that the true measure of economic welfare — and therefore of development in any meaningful sense — can't be a matter of GDP and other conventional measures of "growth." Any true measure of economic welfare must have to do with the degree to which each person can set and achieve his or her own economic goals.

Economic freedom for the world’s poorest people is unquestionably all about the land. Let's say a peasant family has a goat and a garden, and, working carefully, can grow enough to feed itself. Occasionally a good harvest will yield some surplus which can be sold — there wouldn't be much of that, but let's say it brought in an average of two dollars a day. With thrift, enough for school clothes, maybe even books.

Now, let's imagine that the family lost their land — perhaps an injury or some other disaster made it impossible to keep farming it — and they had to go to the city, where they managed to find a combination of odd jobs, yielding them an income of $10 per day. Now, they had to somehow buy their food and every other necessity out of that ten dollars, and they had to live in a miserable shack, with open sewage running in unpaved streets — yet in terms of development numbers, their income had increased by $500%.

In which case did the family have more freedom? Which scenario is more conducive to development?

We were talking about the tendency for landowners to use land as an investment — a sensible thing to do — not to use it now if they don't need to, but to think in terms of enjoying its increase in value over time. We even identified that as the key to the problem of poverty. But — good heavens, what can we do about that? Isn't that just how the economy works? Isn't the private ownership of land a basic part of a modern economy? How can we do without such an important institution?

Or in other words — won't the poor always be with us?

Not necessarily. It has been plain, since very earliest days of civil society, that the private ownership of land leads to exploitation and great extremes of wealth and poverty. And, since the time of the Book of Leviticus, we have had a pretty good idea of what to do about it. In that book were recorded the words "The land shall not be sold for ever, for the land is Mine, for ye are strangers and sojourners with me." ... read the whole speech

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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper